Intermission Story (2) – Biggest Airlift of WWII – The Hump

C-47 flying over The Hump

C-47 flying over The Hump

 In April 1942, the Allied Forces initiated an airborne supply line  that crossed the Eastern Himalaya Mountain Range. This airlift supplied the Chinese War effort against Japan from India and Burma to the Kunming area and beyond.  The C-46 Curtiss Commando and the DC-3/ C-47 Douglas Skytrain in the China- Burma- India Theater of War (CBI), also dubbed as the Hump operations. Other Cargo aircraft types that were also activated in this operation: the Douglas C-54 Skymaster, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator converted as a fuel transport C-109 and its Cargo version C-87 Liberator Express.

Loading in a grasshopper

Loading in a grasshopper, (Piper L-4, observation or ambulance aircraft)

 The Allied Forces supplied the war effort of Chinese Nationalists first by road, later by air. They flew day-and-night missions from airfields in eastern India over the Himalayan Plateau known as the “Hump.” The 500‑mile air route to Kunming in China became known as the “aluminum trail”. More than 1,600 airmen and some 700 transport planes got lost in the mountains or in the jungles on either side of that huge hurdle. (Almost 1,200 men were fortunate to be rescued or walked out to safety.)

The high incident numbers were explained by the extreme altitude and weather of the Himalaya, and another factor was the duration of the Hump operations. From April 1942 until August 1945, 42 months of continuous and massive flight operations, the longest airlift in days of operations that ever existed so far and in numbers of tons of cargo transported only exceeded by the post-war Berlin Airlift (1948).

Burma Road Hump map

Burma Road Hump map

By July 1945, on average a whopping number of  332 aircraft a day flew over the Hump, a number five times bigger than the hard-pressed 62 aircraft on the route in January 1943. During its history, the Hump transport fleet carried 650,000 tons of gasoline, supplies, and men to China.

Part of the clandestine support to China also materialized in the famous American Volunteer Group (AVG) with their “Flying Tigers” Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. That daring initiative to fight the Japanese Imperial  Army & Air Force in China with 100 pursuit aircraft and 300 American “volunteers” was masterminded by Claire L. Chennault, a retired USAAC officer.

Internal loading view

Internal loading view

The AVG (later integrated into the USAAF) efforts needed crews, pursuit planes, fuel, food and spares. All that plus the huge supplies needed for the Chinese Army had to come over that single and most challenging Burma Road by truck! In spite of all setbacks of the extreme terrain, unpaved roads and adverse weather, it worked well. But that all changed dramatically.

Allied access to that lifeline Burma Road was suddenly cut off. From that moment, it was decided to organize an airlift operation, running from NE India’s Assam Province town Dinjan with its airfield Chabua to the city Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province, in the region between the upper Mekong River and the Yangtze River.

C-46 flying over The Hump.

C-46 flying over The Hump.

Airlift operations over the Hump started in May 1942 with only 27 aircraft, mostly Douglas C‑47 Skytrains and 10 ex PANAM DC-3’s. The C‑47’s were gradually augmented by Curtiss C‑46 Com­mandos, with their stronger R-2800 turbocharged engines & more cargo space a better match for the extreme altitude flights. Air transports flew through mountain passes that were 14,000 ft high, flanked by peaks rising to 16,500 ft. Flying time was four to six hours, depending on the weather. The airlift ultimately operated from 13 bases in India. In China, there were six bases, with the main airport at Kun­ming, which became one of the busiest airports in the world with this unprecedented airlift operation.

It became a somewhat remote and forgotten war operation in this outback of the Highest Mountains in the World.  Eastern India’s city Calcutta was since April 1942 the seaport, from where all goods had to be shipped in from overseas. A logistical nightmare had to be resolved to get the goods from Calcutta up north to Chabua Airport. By train turned out to be a disaster with the overload of a poorly functioning railroad infrastructure, so soon yet another air bridge was created between Calcutta and Chabua in the North.

1459424829-5566-c46-loadout3jeepsplustroops

Only the “second stage” airlift brought all goods to Kunming. For the transport of fuel, the converted B-24 Liberator (designated C-109) was able to fly non-stop from Calcutta directly to Kunming over the ‘Low Hump route” more to the south. This route was frequently patrolled by the Burma-based Zero Fighters.

Military commanders considered flights over the Hump to be more hazardous than bombing missions over Europe! For its efforts and sacrifices, the India-China Wing of the Air Transport Command was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation on January 29, 1944; the first such award made to a non-combat organization!

Condensed from the article in The Dakota Hunter and War History On-line.

Click on images to enlarge,

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 Military Humor –

pilots1ph

Warning: Low Flying Planes

Warning: Low Flying Planes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes –

Anthony Brozyna – Hartford, CT; USMC, WWII, PTO, 8th Marines, PFC, KIA (Tarawa)

Thomas Crump = Pense, CAN; RAF & RC Air Force, WWII

Missing Man formation

Missing Man formation

Andrew Hickey – Mosman, NSW, AUS; RA Navy # S10567

Gilbert Horn Sr. Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, MT; US Army, CBI, Merrill’s Marauder, Assiniboine Code Talker

Elmer Jenkens – Wilcox, NE; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Medic

Howard Kelly – Jersey City, NJ; US Army, WWII, ETO

Charles Long – Washington, NC; US Army, Korea, 187th RCT

Edward ‘Leo’ Pabst – Parma, OH; USMC, WWII, Sgt.

Ralph C. Toothaker – Kansas; US Navy, WWII, Petty Officer 1st Class

James Whitlock – Lake Worth, FL; USMC, WWII

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on April 11, 2016, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 93 Comments.

  1. In my mind, the C-46, the C-47, and their pilots are really some of the unsung heroes of the war. Whether it came to dropping paratroopers or supplies, they could get it done, and they frequently got it done from the CBI theatre to Normandy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Truth Troubles: Why people hate the truths' of the real world and commented:
    Excellent post, please give it a few moment of your time.

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  3. As always, an excellent post sir. Thank you for putting the material up for us other to read. I am going to go ahead and repost a few of your stories, hopefully that will help get you a few more followers.

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  4. I remember reading somewhere that these old planes are direct inspiration behind the development of the modern C-17 which was a contender for replacing the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Spectre variants.

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  5. I recall comparing the vast areas we needed to counter the Japanese in the Pacific, using the distances North to South of the U.S. as a guide. It becomes apparent that Mr. Burns finished his coverage of the Pacific long ago, though I missed any TV coverage that may have been aired by PBS.

    I searched a few links via my search engine; this address is very territorial, I don’t know whether contacting them directly would shorten the circuitous method Re: permission to repost, even in part, any of their columns.
    Here is a posting that puts those distances into perspective; then think of the CBI theater, so badly ignored. (my opinion)

    https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/America-and-the-South-Pacific

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    • I wouldn’t think (IMO) that the PBS would be very interested in covering the CBI too closely after Churchill simply dumped it on the US to protect the British possessions. The US was already in strange waters as far as fighting in jungles, the diseases and cultures unknown – the CBI became as ignored as the ATO did. Today’s historians don’t look for answers, they simply repeat what has been stated in other texts (true or not).

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  6. I don’t know if Ken Burns finished his “The Pacific” project. He’d better not to skip over the CBI theater; your posts give a needed perspective of the blood, sweat and tears shed in that region. Some of the campaigns have never been given any real coverage. The operations in New Guinea extending into ’44 were an education I received via your page.

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    • Some people don’t think of the CBI or ATO as part of the Pacific War, but I feel they did interact with each other and at times overlapped. I appreciate your confidence in my research, but I must admit, it is not as thorough as it should be. If interested, you might want to look into author, Hilary Constance Green and her research as well.

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  7. Among many things to amaze with that operation is firstly the number of airmen downed, and secondly that two-thirds made it out again!

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    • They had, not only the enemy to worry about, but the weather and, air currents above the mountains that can prove for tricky maneuvering – similar to what the pilots in the ATO (Alaska) had to deal with. I find that 2/3’s made it out as remarkable.

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  8. Wonderful information. I didn’t know anything about this.

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    • I’m glad to have increased your information on the CBI, Hilary. It is amazing just how many knew nothing about this entire operation despite its size and length of time.

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  9. Have actually heard of the Burma road. Was told it officially never existed. Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Amazing. As any military expert will tell us, wars are won and lost on supplies. Good history, GP.

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  11. Unbelievable to imagine 700 transport planes lost going over The Hump during that period of time, also exceptional stamina for those survivors who were able to be rescued or walk out to safety. The guts and determination of the servicemen of those bygone days, could not be repeated in today’s generation.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Fascinating stuff. Never heard of that before, a real surprise especially considering the scale of it!

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  13. Still have the souvenir cap that I bought from the Flying Tigers Museum that is housed in the former residence of General Joseph Warren Stilwell in Chongching in neighbouring Sichuan Province. We went on to Kunming after that – not sure if there is another museum there. For some reason there is an art gallery at the rear of the Chongching museum, and I fell in love with a painting of a Miao woman getting married. Nothing to do with aviation! Bizarre! But I carried it home and treasure it.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. As always, the mind boggles at the scale …

    Liked by 2 people

  15. The Himalayas – The Hump- would really have been a challenge as aircraft didn’t have the controls they have today. Thanks for sharing their difficulties.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just glad to see such interest in what these troops accomplished! Being as they did not teach us this history in school, such a huge operation goes unheard of. Thank you for reading, Bev!

      Like

  16. Gp I think the Aussie death should read Andrew Hickey; Mosman, NSW Australia. Mosman is a Sydney suburb.
    Great pics of what I still think of as the DC3, what a great plane it still is, there are still some flying here in Australia and I expect there are many more flying around the US; and to think they’re the same age as me, in design at least if not in year of manufacture. 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Excellent information. Thanks GP

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Loved the low flying plane photograph!!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I too didn’t know about this operation. Smiling at the humor section especially the “Low flying plane” LOL

    Liked by 2 people

  20. ” A remote and forgotten operation ” indeed, GP. At least articles like these help to keep their memory alive, and bring due credit to the transport airmen involved.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t that the truth, Pete!! I continually remind people that there are so many other jobs in the service besides the combat soldier. It literally takes an ARMY to keep the fighting man at the front.

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  21. I think it was in flying the Hump that British airman David Graves lost his life. David was the son of WWI soldier Robert Graves. Robert Graves barely survived World War I – he went on to write a classic memoir of his war experiences – Goodbye to All That.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe, if memory serves me, Robert Graves had one daughter (name escapes me) and one son, Tomas, but I can not be certain. I’ll bow to your knowledge, Janet.

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  22. Another cracking article, GP. I have reblogged it on my site. Hope that’s okay with you.
    Jon

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think it’s great, Jon. This site is to help people learn and then remember these stories, events and the generation as a whole – what better way?!!!!

      Like

  23. Qutie an amazing effort. This was sort of a “Silk Road” by air.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. This is a famous enough chapter in military history that even I have heard about it. I’m glad for this post, and all that I learned from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As much as I try to locate info that is barely unknown – I can’t accomplish that every time. But, people do forget, so I like to keep the memories alive. Thanks for dropping by!

      Like

  25. Wow! I knew about these operations, but I had no idea of the scale. Those are some incredible numbers.

    As an aside, I worked in the late 70s for Airborne Freight. When we had international shipments. we worked with Flying Tiger Airlines. It was, at one time, the largest air transport operation in the world, and it was founded by airmen from the operations you’ve described here.

    A quick search led me to an article about the eventual acquisition of Flying Tiger by FedEx, in the aftermath of deregulation – http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/17/business/federal-express-to-buy-flying-tiger.html

    Liked by 4 people

    • The acquisition pretty much put an end to an era, eh? Thanks for following up with this information, Dan!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes! I worked in airfreight and shipping most of my life! The Flying Tiger I recall was operated by Pan Am and had a nose cone that opened and freight was loaded through there. Raised casters on the deck revolved and turned the pallets in whatever direction was needed to maximise the space. The plane was only a skin, with a tiny space up front for the two pilots and a kitchenette behind for them to boil a kettle and make a coffee. I am thinking early 80s, so perhaps it was another aircraft “inspired” by the legend. The only aircraft to rival it for commercial freight was the Russian . . . help me . . . Antonov? . . . . that doesn’t seem right . . . operated by Aeroflot.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Wow never heard about this at all. Hey you don’t think this is because China went Red after the war? Same thing with happened with the Arctic Convoys. An incredible and brave action carried out by the personnel involved, thanks for posting GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Pierre Lagacé

    I knew a little…
    Now I know much more!

    Liked by 4 people

  28. Thank you for helping me to keep these memories alive, Jon.

    Like

  29. Thank you for spreading this story!

    Like

  30. Thank you for helping to keep these memories alive.

    Like

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